Whether or not you committed a crime, being pulled over by a law enforcement officer can be a very stressful experience. The thought that doing or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time could result in criminal charges or worse is enough to make most people nervous.
If an officer asks you to take a field sobriety test, it can cause even more stress and anxiety, particularly if you do not think you can pass for some reason, but it is important to know that people have options. Even if you do fail a field sobriety test (FST), it does not necessarily mean you will be found guilty of a crime.
Field Sobriety Tests
Operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated or distracted is a very serious issue and it should be treated seriously. If a law enforcement officer thinks that someone is a danger to themselves and others because of the way they are driving, it is their job to make sure people stay safe.
If they suspect that a driver is intoxicated, they can request that the driver takes one or more field sobriety tests. These tests are designed to show physical signs of impairment. Some common field sobriety tests include,
- Walking a line
This test involves taking a series of heel-to-toe steps in a line, turning around and walking back in the same line. This test is supposed to show physical imbalance caused by impairment.
- Standing on one leg
This test involves balancing on a single leg, often while counting or reciting the alphabet.
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus
This test involves looking at an object as an officer moves it horizontally (left to right, right to left) in front of your face. This is meant to detect and jerking of the eye, which can be a sign of intoxication.
It is important to know that you can legally refuse to take a field sobriety test. Refusing to take a FST is not an admission of guilt and it will have no adverse legal effects. However, an office may note it in their report.
It is also important to know that, under California’s implied consent laws, you can refuse to take a blood, urine or chemical test, but your driver’s license will be immediately suspended for a year.
Can field sobriety tests be challenged?
The results of a field sobriety test can absolutely be challenged. Some people fail these tests because of physical or neurologic conditions they have and cannot control (inner ear infections that impact balance, skeletal and/or neurologic disorders, injuries, etc.). Additionally, sometimes officers will not conduct these tests correctly.
If you think you have been unjustly charged with a crime because of the results of a field sobriety test, it is highly recommended that you obtain the services of an experienced and knowledgeable legal professional. They will be able to work with you to get the justice you deserve.